About three-and-a-half years ago, when Asustek Computer Inc (華碩電腦) launched the world’s first low-cost notebook computer, the Eee PC, which boasted mobility and ease of use, all PC brands, including leading brands HP and Acer Inc (宏碁), cast doubt on the success of such an unconventional notebook that they claimed “compromises on performance.”
Sacrificing some computing performance, Asustek proved that the new laptop category, the Eee PC family, satisfied consumers’ need to be connected to the Internet with better Web browsing on screens larger than that of smartphones. And more importantly, the line carried an affordable price tag.
Fast uptake of the low-cost laptop, or netbook, as it was dubbed later by HP, has opened a new chapter of the mobile PC industry, meaning consumers are the boss, rather than the engineers behind the machines, in deciding what types of products should be on the market.
Such a change in the mindsets of PC manufacturers has reignited a new wave of competition in the mobile PC race.
During this year’s Computex trade show in Taipei, tablet devices were the most eye--catching mobile devices, inspired mostly by Apple Inc’s iPad. Booths showcasing tablets were always packed with visitors over the past three days.
A large number of PC brands showcased their tablet products after displaying concept models last year and all major processors unveiled new chips targeting tablet markets. Hardware manufacturers from PC companies to mobile phone brands want a share of the promising tablet market.
“I’m tracking 500 designs [of ARM-based processors] this year,” ARM Holdings Inc vice president Ian Drew said this week at the Computex trade show.
ARM has a dominant presence in the world’s tablet device market as its processors power Apple’s iPads and other tablet devices.
Interestingly, all the tablets on display look fairly similar, no matter what brand they carry — Acer, Micro-Star (微星科技) or View-Sonic. If the logos were -covered up, -Computex visitors would probably not be able to recognize which manufacturer produced which.
This raises the question of how to make a tablet stand out from the crowd, given that they all have similar hardware specifications, such as touch screens. The rise of open operating systems, especially Google Inc’s Android, offered an opportunity to differentiate between products, but it also opened up a new battle field in the software and application areas as open systems allow hardware suppliers to add applications, or value-added services, to make their products more appealing.
Taiwanese companies are good at manufacturing high-quality hardware products, but these long--standing IT companies have lost track of consumers’ needs, which is something consumer electronics companies, such as handset makers, are good at.
Thus, the growth of electronic devices is being spurred on from the consumer side, rather than the commercial or corporate side as it used to be. What’s more, the latest survey by market research firm International Data Corp (IDC) showed that for each person in the US, Germany, Japan, France and the UK, there are 4.8 mobile computing devices.
To win the new mobile computing game, Taiwanese companies need to rethink their strategies and to reset their mindset to be more like those of consumer electronics companies.